Israel buries last of its founders
Israelis and Palestinians honour Peres
JERUSALEM: Israeli and Palestinian leaders shook hands during a brief chat and US president Barack Obama gently reminded them of the “unfinished business of peace” at the funeral of Shimon Peres, the last of a generation of Israel’s founding fathers.
But there was no indication that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s rare visit to Jerusalem and the amiable words he and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged would lead to any movement in long-stalled peacemaking.
Peres, a former president and prime minister who died on Wednesday at the age of 93, shared a Nobel Prize for the interim land-for-peace accords he helped reach with the Palestinians as Israel’s foreign minister in the 1990s.
Long hailed abroad and by supporters in Israel as a visionary, Peres was seen by his critics as an overly optimistic dreamer in the harsh realities of the Middle East.
“I know from my conversations with him, his pursuit of peace was never naive,” Obama said in his eulogy of Peres, who did much in the early part of his 70 years in public life to build up Israel’s powerful military and nuclear weapons capabilities.
US-sponsored negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been frozen since 2014.
Netanyahu and Abbas have not held face-to-face talks since 2010. Abbas opted to attend Peres’s funeral, making the short drive from nearby Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, through Israeli military checkpoints.
“Long time, long time,” Abbas told Netanyahu and the prime minister’s wife Sara, after shaking his hand before the start of the ceremony held in the “Great Leaders of the Nation” section of Mount Herzl cemetery.
Welcoming Abbas, as participants recorded the encoun- ter on their cellphones, Netanyahu said of the Palestinian leader’s attendance: “It’s something that I appreciate very much on behalf of our people.”
In Israel for just a few hours to pay tribute to Peres, Obama said in the eulogy that Abbas’s “presence here is a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace”. He was the only speaker to acknowledge Abbas’s presence.
In Gaza, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, hundreds of Palestinians rallied after Friday prayers condemning the participation of Palestinian and Arab leaders in the funeral.
The rulers of Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel, in 1979 and 1994, were not in attendance.
But the Egyptian foreign minister came and King Abdullah of Jordan sent a telegram of condolences.
Britain’s Prince Charles, French president Francois Hollande, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, Polish president Andrzej Duda, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and former British leaders David Cameron and Tony Blair also were at the funeral. – Reuters
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, greets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas during the state funeral of former Israeli president Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem yesterday.